Go Read This Guide To American Drone Law

Unsettled questions, unsettling answers

DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter
DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter
DJI Phantom 4 QuadcopterScreenshot by author, from YouTube

Drone law is a young field, full of unsettled questions. The FAA, responsible for the safety of America's skies, is enforcing a patchwork quilt of rules and standards, balancing laws that exempt model airplanes from regulation with rules that apply strictly to manned aircraft. We've documented drone law a fair bit over the years. Today, Jason Koebler at Motherboard published a comprehensive guide, as in depth as any we've seen.

Here’s just one part:

The FAA has taken this self-given authority to use manned regulations to go after drone pilots to the extreme. The agency has fined companies for flying drones that do not have “transponder” equipment or radios that are able to communicate with air traffic control, but it has left that fine off of most of its enforcements. The FAA says these are violations of 14 CFR Section 91.131, a manned aircraft regulation that, in part, requires “navigation equipment.” Kind of nuts when you consider that really no drones have transponders or the other equipment the FAA has cited, and such equipment is not required in the proposed regulations that the agency has released.

New regulations could end a lot of this ambiguity, and give pilots clear guidelines to follow across the country. Right now, the only place where drone law seems really established is the 15-mile radius around Washington, DC. There, pilots can clearly be fined for flying drones.